Iraq's parliamentary elections are already being hailed as a major victory for a burgeoning political process in that country. While the high voter turnout, especially among ethnic Sunnis is a welcome sign, what it all means for the future of the country is much less clear.
President Bush had lavish praise for Thursday's elections. "It (was) a remarkable day ... in the history of mankind, in the history of freedom," he said.
Earlier, the President had called the voting a "major step forward."
Phebe Marr would agree with that assessment. She has written extensively on Iraq and is a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace. She says while the elections seem to have been an overwhelming success, they are only the first step of a long and difficult political process. "At the end of the day, compromise is what is going to be necessary among these groups, inclusion of Sunnis for sure, in the Cabinet, if Iraq is going to develop some kind of cohesion and be able to move ahead."
Speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington research institution, Ms. Marr predicted there would be some hard and long bargaining in the weeks and perhaps months ahead. She said success would be signaled by the kind of broad coalitions the various political groups are able and willing to form to govern the country.
The participation of Iraq's former ruling Sunni minority was seen as a key element in this election. Sunni inclusion in the political process is considered vital for any sort of future stability.
Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East specialist with the U.S. government's Congressional Research Service, says the strong Sunni participation is a good sign, but he cautions that questions remain about Sunni intentions. "Are they voting to be part of a new Iraq in which power is shared or are they voting to strengthen their efforts to overturn what they see as a Shi'ite and Kurdish-led political order in Iraq," he said.
Mr. Katzman says political success must translate onto the battlefield. "If the political process is indeed working, this will show up as declining violence. If we do not see declining violence, I think we must question whether the political process is succeeding, " he said.
The ballots are still being counted and the final tally may not be known for weeks. The Bush Administration hopes a new broad-based Iraqi government with Sunni participation will be formed and that it will be able to quell the insurgency and allow the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops.